Posted in Food

Surviving Clean Eating & Meal Planning

As I prepare to host my first group related to eating healthier and having a meal plan at-the-ready, I recognize some reasons why it’s so hard to tackle the beast of planning, eating well, and exercising.

So often, we feel like it’s all or nothing. But it’s about progress, not perfection. And it doesn’t have so complex, expensive, or unpleasant.

Here are a few tips to remember, especially if you’re easing into meal planning.

Never underestimate the power of frozen foods

From frozen fish fillets to frozen fruits and veggies, you don’t have to feel guilty or unhealthy if you buy frozen ingredients. Frozen foods can make meal prep way simpler. When you need veggies for a casserole, you can just grab the mixed bag from the freezer. If you’re like me and enjoy a piece of fish like tuna or salmon for lunch, you can buy a bag of frozen, wild caught fish for around $10-$12 (which gets 5-8 pieces of fish). I like to just toss it in a pan with salt and pepper, and then eat a salad or frozen veggies with quinoa.

Some of my favorite quick, healthy options are:

Birds Eye Steamfresh Protein Blends

If you’re like me, the idea of just a salad at lunch every day is boring and not filling enough to last until dinner, or even the midday snack. That’s one reason I really like these blends of frozen veggies with proteins like lentils, quinoa, and chickpeas. They’re great for lunch, but also for dinner. Whether you need a quick and healthy side dish, or want to whip up a quick stir fry, you could add a few ingredients like tofu, chicken, soy sauce, and more veggies to make the main dish.

My favorite flavors so far are California Style and Italian Style because of the broccoli and lentils. ūüôā


Frozen foods retain a majority¬†of their nutritional value, too (much more than canned). So you’re not cutting yourself short by using frozen foods. Plus, you don’t have to worry about as quick of an expiration date.

Veggie trays save time and money

I’m a big fan of buying a veggie tray each week. For about $10, I get several of the veggies I’d want for the week, already cut up and easy to access. We rarely waste any of these veggies, but may if we buy everything separate. I buy the varieties that include some or all of these:

  • tomatoes
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • carrots
  • celery

They often come with their own dips, but if you want a healthier option that still tastes good, try Hidden Valley’s dressings made with Greek yogurt. We really like the ranch and cucumber dill, but they have other flavors, too. Of course, the ranch isn’t as rich as the regular packets, but it’s only 60 calories per serving (rather than over 100 like most dressings).

Beans are a healthy (and inexpensive) staple

Super healthy, fiber-rich, and often cheap. I tend to stock up on the canned ones at 35 cents (Hy-Vee recent sale), and you can get more bang for your buck buying dried and soaking.

We pop open a can of black beans, or refried black/other beans, every time we make tacos, burrito bowls, or quesadillas. Al and I like Wild Kenyan Hot Sauce on the beans, but you can also add a bit of shredded cheddar or feta.

We also like to¬†make dishes with many bean variations. A family favorite for years is Calico Beans. It’s a mix of any type of beans you want to use (we like black, kidney, lima, navy) enhanced with bacon and ground beef. You can cut the sugar by not using as much brown sugar or using low-sugar/homemade ketchup. Also, most recipes call for a can of pork and beans. Not a fan.

This is a great, hearty meal, and it’s also awesome to make a bunch extra! We freeze at least two extra meals’ worth every time I make it. To keep it a bit healthier, I double the recipe, but use 1 pound of ground beef (90% lean is good) and 1 pound of ground turkey.

It’s fun to eat this in tortillas with a little hot sauce and feta, on its own, with some bread and butter…really anything goes!

Here’s one recipe:

There are many more ways to keep healthy eating and meal prep less stressful, and easier to stick with (without breaking the budget), but for now, this is a good start.

Posted in Food

I Have My Bag! And Some Harper Cuteness

First Biking of 2015After calling US Airways for four straight days and getting a notification that the inclement weather had caused everything to be slower than normal, I finally reached a real person yesterday, Saturday, 5 days after I actually had my trip. I then had to contact American Airlines, and finally found a real person who was not only knowledgeable, but helpful. She discovered that my bag had actually been in Des Moines at the airport since Tuesday…this is actually the day I returned my rental car, so I’d already been there. I just was too early to know my bag was going to get there.

Anyway, I hadn’t built a trip to the DSM airport into Harper and my Saturday plans, but I was more than happy to drive there if the bag was actually going to be there. I was quite skeptical, but thrilled when the same people who couldn’t help me a few days before knew exactly what to do. And I could even see my bag.

This humor and cuteness ensued:

It was a beautiful day in Iowa, and by that I mean that it was 40 degrees and the hearty folks we are no longer needed heavy coats. So we also got to experience this fun and cuteness:

Then today (Sunday), I got another round full of humor and cuteness as Harper rode her bike, played Elsa and Anna with our neighborhood sign (basically, I was Anna and had to say “ok bye”), and then climbed into our new toy box.

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Posted in family

American Airlines and US Airways Suck – Perhaps They Should Try to be More “United?”

I haven’t posted anything here for a long time and it’s sad that my recent endurance of such awful travel experiences is what’s promoting the rejuvenation of the blog. However, I do not hate complaining about things when the full wrath is fully merited. If you or anyone you know is seriously considering booking a flight with American Airlines or US Airways in the near future, please read this post and share it with any other travelers. I know there’s no way of avoiding their BS, especially in locations like Des Moines in the midwest, but it’s still worth understanding what happens.

Please note that I write this as someone who used to travel almost 100% of the time for work within the past 10 years, flying primarily on Delta and the former American Airlines. During that time, I experienced such crazy mishaps as the pilots being given the wrong half hour to try to land on a runway during the cleanup of a snow storm and being sent back to the land miles away from my home, to having countless flights canceled when I needed to be at work or home. Thank heavens this isn’t my typical life anymore.

I’m going to start at the end of my trip because this is when the shit really hit the fan, so to speak. Pardon my language, but that’s about as much as I can tame it given the circumstances, and let’s be real. I don’t really tame it that much anyway.

This story takes place on 3/2/15 as I attempted to get home to my child, dogs, and home office. Al and I headed to Pittsburgh plenty early. I printed my boarding pass, didn’t need to check a bag because I rolled with the smallest roller bag you could get. We said our goodbyes and I got lucky – got to go through the TSA pre-approved line! I had some breakfast, did a little work, then went to the bathroom. Well, the US Airways folks at the gate decided to board everyone early, so even though I was in Group 1, by the time I rolled over moments later, they made me gate check my very small roller bag. Yet they wouldn’t just planeside check the thing so I could pick it up when I got off the plane. I was to pick the thing up all the way at the gate in Des Moines when I got there…or more apropos, if¬†I¬†got there.

At this point, I didn’t think all luck was against me. I got to sit in row 4 behind first class, the place with the most leg room. We were going to push back from the gate early. Then there was a medical emergency (fortunately everyone was ok), but we had to wait as an extra flight crew got to replace the seats of the folks who had to exit the plane. The flight finally left, and it was totally “smooth sailing” until we landed. I sent Al an IM with the status and he said he was glad I was sitting down.

Oh shit.

US Airways had canceled my flight to DSM for no reason. Now, they never bothered to tell me that. I received no phone call or email. If Al hadn’t told me or I didn’t have Google Now cards set up, I wouldn’t have known until I looked up at a screen or tried to board the next nonexistent plane. To make matters worse, I was stuck in DCA, Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington D.C. Such a pity I’ve never had to deal with this piece of crap place before. After waiting 15 minutes in line to speak to customer service (note: at most airports you can just talk to a gate agent for help), I finally spoke to a kind gentleman who tried his best to get me the hell out of there. Guess what US Airways’ best attempt to get me home was? Anyone? The same unstable flight to DSM the next afternoon. They could rebook me on flights to other locations, but by the time I’d arrive, it wouldn’t matter, as all flights from anywhere else to DSM had no seats. I asked him what reason they listed for canceling. There wasn’t one. So no mechanical issues and no weather issues. They just plain canceled and stole everyone’s money or air miles in the process. These types of actions deserve explanations followed by refunds.

And that was nowhere near the end of the adventure. I did not want to be stuck in D.C. by myself. It’s a great city, but I didn’t want to pay for a hotel in a nice enough area to then sit in the room when I was supposed to be home picking my daughter up from preschool. By the way, this is Miss Harper. Are you telling me someone could resist wanting to fly the plane herself to get home to this?


And even worse, I had to leave this wonderful man, who is also this awesome to my wonderful little girl:


I finally weighed the amount of time I was going to waste likely never getting home by air, and told the guy to please just book me to ORD (Chicago O’Hare) and I’d suck it up and drive the rest of the way home. He gave me a curious look but listened. What I didn’t know was that this caused a new problem to arise. I wanted my bag to end up at ORD unless there was by some miracle a way to catch one of those 45-minute flights from ORD back to DSM. Even though AA and US Air are now supposed to be one company, and they love to force you to fly on one or the other when it’s convenient for them, they still tell you the boarding passes and anything related to the flights can only be handled by one or the other. So I was handed a printout of gibberish and sent on a bus into the abyss that was the other set of gates at DCA, where somehow, an American Airlines rep was supposed to help me.

I¬†road the bus like a refugee who didn’t know the language, then was forced to roam the halls trying to determine who might be an AA employee and able to assist me. I selected wrong and continued to roam. I was then met with someone who seemed annoyed I existed and was practically shouting at me, yet printed my boarding pass. I told her my boyfriend, who booked the flights, was told by AA on the phone that I could get on standby in Chicago and that only 1 person was in the queue before me. But the woman I spoke to said she had no idea what I was talking about and that I’d have to go get my ticket reissued. At this point, I had no idea what the hell that meant.

I heard a call on the intercom for a Chicago flight and decided to run over and see if I could catch standby there. Two agents were boarding people; I rarely bother people when they’re so busy. But they’d cleared through the list of people and it seemed reasonable to try to get on the plane. I handed one woman the re-booked ticket I had, this time American-issued, so she couldn’t even claim US Air ignorance, and she asked me what it was I wanted. Just like that. I explained that US Air canceled my flight, I was rebooked to ORD, and wanted to see if I could catch a seat from standby. She responded by looking at my ticket and asking me if it was issued for this flight. Clearly not, dumbass, once again, as I’m still trying to get on this plane. Word of advice to these airlines, don’t treat a customer who has been yanked around like this and still is acting rational like she is dumb or wrong. This is an extremely bad move on your part.

She once again asked me what it was I wanted, and I finally could not deal with dumb questions anymore. I simply, yet pointedly say, “I want to get out of this airport.” She and her equally useless counterpart look at me as if I have insulted some form of bitchfest code they had. She tells me I can get that seat for $75. Excuse me? Your “merged” or “overtaken” airlines canceled my flight, and there are available seats on this one, yet you have the gall to try to charge me again?

After this BS, I continued to roam the gates to see if some nice AA employee actually existed in the DCA airport. The answer was no by the way, and as much as I now hate this airline, I will say that at least the employees at ORD and DSM were completely pleasant and helpful always even if I didn’t get the result I wanted. Why the DCA people had a chip on their shoulders, I have no idea. I finally had a moderately helpful AA person explain that I’d have to hop¬†on that damn bus again to go back to a gate where US Airways attendants roam to start the entire booking process over again…for airlines that are now supposed to be one and assholes who have now canceled numerous flights without actually offering real assistance, isn’t it interesting that they shipped me back and forth as if they couldn’t help me?

By the time I understood what the “rebooking” and “final destination” problems were, I needed to catch my flight to ORD, knowing my gut instinct that then renting a car and driving my ass back close to 6 hours was going to give me a life extension. See, if US Airways stamps your¬†plan with some sort of top secret “final destination” stamp, it’s code to American Airlines to then say they can make no changes to your itinerary.

I was thrilled at least that the plane had a way to charge my cell phone, which I now knew needed 100% juice to use it as a reminder GPS to drive that extra lovely 6 hours home. I looked to book any conceivable flight out of ORD to DSM, and the only thing was, of course, a US Airways seat for the same-day price of over $800. After looking through airline BS, I found I could book a rental car online and was able to secure my Hertz rental from the plane.

At this point, I have to admit that I was dumb enough to assume few things could work out ok. I landed in Chicago at 4:15, went to the bathroom, and headed to the baggage claim. After 45 minutes and a few of us asking, not a single bag from the DCA flight managed to be delivered to any of the belts. Yes, after I chose to fly to a place not my destination, I had to wait for a bag to never get there. And to think, the notion the bag was going to ORD was the reason AA gave me such a hard time about trying to “continue” the ability to fly to another destination to get and get on a standby list. Since I still had to pick up a rental car and pay over $200 for the dumb thing, then turn around and drive up to 6 hours home, I had to give up and leave. The bag was no longer worth it, even though all the walking and waiting had left my feet bleeding, literally bleeding on my heels. I’d have loved to have changed clothes into my slippers and yoga pants if my bag had actually been there.

American Airlines boasts earnings of:

Third quarter 2014 net profit, excluding net special charges, was a record $1.2 billion, up 59 percent versus the third quarter 2013

Does this seem like an earnings report that means we all should get yanked around like yahoos all the time?

I’m just an individual who tends to try to work while in airports and on airplanes. That’s impossible when the airlines force you to either walk back and forth from Concourse H to L all day hoping to get the standby seat or wasting several hours attempting to find a customer service or gate agent who A) knows what he or she is going or B) actually tries to help without treating you like it’s your fault. Each of these last travel days, I lost way more work hours than I needed to.

I bet they’ll send some BS comment about why our trip plans weren’t as important because we didn’t have a high enough status or because air miles were used. Funny thing about those air miles though…ya have to fly a bunch, i.e., pay for a bunch of air travel, to earn the miles.

And for the record, my bag has still not been found, the best AA decided to do on social media, even after Al and I attempted to engage them to be responsible numerous times was this BS (and US Air has remained stone silent):

Twitter screen shot

Alright, this is all I can handle for now. Guess what, this doesn’t cover part 1 of the trip last Thursday, February¬†26, 2015. I’ll be back for that shortly.

Posted in family

Stupid (Yet So Far Successful) Saturday

Parman Family Christmas
Sis’ dog, Rocky, was not so sure about the hand he’d been dealt at the Parman Family Christmas ’13

Some people have noticed from me changing my name back to Parman that there’s likely some transition going on in my household. This would be an accurate assumption. Why does that matter for this story? Well, I needed a bed for just me, and since I’m now that the munchkin isn’t here every other weekend, I decided it was a good day to go shopping.

It didn’t take me long to pick out what I wanted, and after shelling out a wad of cash for a mattress and bed frame, I decided I might as well blow the rest of the money I don’t have at Whole Foods. I bought 20 items that probably weren’t on my original Hy-Vee shopping list and cost 3x as much. Just because it’s winter and I’m up for an adventure in water weight loss, I picked up some master cleanse drinks. Between those and the kale salad with 3000 cloves of garlic, I will likely not leave my house for 3 weeks because I’ll need to stay close to a bathroom and won’t want to breathe on anyone. I also now know why their summer rolls are so expensive. As I dipped one into the mustard sauce, I realized there were tiny fish eggs in it. I don’t mind the taste of caviar, but did I really need an expensive garnish inside my condiment?

For once, I had a pretty chill work week, so I have no idea why I was so brain dead as I handled these chores. I’m pretty sure that at each store, when the clerk said something, I responded with something completely stupid. If they would’ve followed normal conversation protocol and said, “Have a nice day,” my standard response of “You too” would’ve made sense. But today, I think the guy I bought my bed from said, “Enjoy your new bed.” And I’m pretty sure I responded with, “You too.” On the way out of the furniture store, a girl asked me how I was doing. I said I was good and asked how she was doing. When she said “I’m doing well,” I said, “Thank you.” Why? I have no idea. And at Whole Foods, the guy asked something about the weather and I said I was glad the snow stopped. He gave me a really weird look before staring out the window, where it was clearly snowing (Actually, it was just blowing around, but I can understand why he thought I was an idiot.)

I made one final stop. I felt the need to wax nostalgic, so I went to a book store before they all go the way of the dinosaurs. I really like bookstores; however, they lack something that Amazon has: a large assortment of books. They did at least have some decent kids’ books, so I bought Harper one for Valentine’s Day along with¬†Green Eggs & Ham, the one Dr. Seuss book we didn’t yet own. I also decided I needed something to take along on my upcoming business conference trip in case all of my technology fails and I get bored.¬†While I usually just listen to MP3s or read from my Kindle app, I thought, what the hell? I’m in a book store…let’s just go ahead and buy some tangible paper products. So¬†I bought a logic puzzle book and a deck of cards. Of course, I’ve never met a fine-tip pen or Moleskin notebook I didn’t like, so I bought a few more of those.

So, not too shabby of a Saturday so far. Now I’m off to drink my cleanse beverage and then desperately want a cheeseburger and a martini. To be fair, I can’t just drink liquids, so there will not be a full cleanse happening here. I need to chew food. For more on why I don’t enjoy this cleanse crap anyway, see this post about Cabbage Soup. Hopefully it “cleanses” my brain and my attempt to actually do some work today isn’t futile. However, if you see some learning material get published with my name on it and it’s written in gibberish, you’ll know I’ve just responded with “You too” for no apparent reason.

Happy Saturday!

– Jill

P.S. The discussion about Whole Foods makes me think of this article by Kelly MacLean that I think is hilarious: Surviving Whole Foods

Posted in family, parenthood

I Survived (And I Might Make T-Shirts)

Shoveling helper
Too cool with her shades and shovel.

So, this is the story of last night.

Harper’s going to daycare 2x/week now. I work a lot, but the flexibility of what I do as a contractor with my own business has allowed me to keep her at home for most of the 2.5 years she’s been on planet earth. It’s pretty awesome even though it can be a crazy schedule to maintain.

I picked her up early to avoid the white death (predicted 6 inches of snow). When we got home, I wanted to let her dad know we’d made it, and she wanted to talk to him, so we gave him a call. During this call, she tells me to turn around, not look at her, leave her alone, and that it’s pretend time. I had no idea what the hell she was talking about until I turned around and saw her squatting. Clearly she was trying to poop and didn’t want me to know about it. She’s in that transition phase of going on the potty some, then not wanting to the rest of the time, and she’s asserting her independence more often.

So as the room starts to smell, I hang up the phone and tell Harper we need to change her butt. I then realize we’ve encountered the poopocalypse. It was almost¬†everywhere, and when I attempted to take off her shirt, it just dragged it up her back, into her hair, into¬†everywhere. Now this kind of stuff doesn’t really phase me, so I cleaned her up a bit, threw the clothes into the wash, and put her in the bathtub. She played long enough to get pruny, and I told her:

“I’m glad you feel better after the poopocalypse.”

Not missing a beat, she says, “No, I never poop on lips.”

Of course, this cracked me up, and as I laughed, she started cackling along with me.

After the bath, I was reminded quickly that even though the kid’s crapping event only happens in one room, it makes the entire house smell like Hazmat needs to pay a visit to the house. But eventually, it went away and¬†we survived¬†poopocalypse. Gosh, being a parent is so glamorous. ūüėČ

I’m sure I’ll be back with more stories soon.

– Jill

Posted in family

Injuries, Food, and the 5 O’Clock News

It was a good Saturday. I thought it’d be fun for Harper and I to get out of the house, so we started the day with a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts. The one in Ankeny is new, so it was a zoo. I wanted some of their k-cups and an iced latte and I figured Harper would like some “munchkin” donuts. Everyone working was pleasant but it took them longer to make my iced latte than it did to cook at least 5 other families’ breakfasts. We were there for a long time. I didn’t take the stroller in with me, so I just let Harper roam around in the chairs and wave at people. She was a hit as usual.

Finally got my iced latte and realized I had quite the handful of stuff, especially because Harper had decided Dunkin’ Donuts was the place to be and she would’ve happily stayed there for the next 7 hours. Finally bear hugging her to get her out the door, I opened doors with my butt and held on for dear life to the box of donuts, my coffee, and the box of k-cups. Once outside, I let Harper down, but she started running toward where cars would be pulling in and backing out. I shouted at her to stop, but of course, that was promptly ignored. I caught her and yanked her up in my arms before she could get hurt. I put her in the car and started to set all the other junk down. As I often do, I put my beverage on top of the car. Not a wise choice in this case. The cup was a bit more top heavy than I was expecting and it ended up toppling over and spilling down my arm. I was slightly pissed but I chose to get over it quickly. And then I saw that the broken cup had actually sliced into my arm on its way down. Who knew the plastic cup was a safety hazard?

Dangerous cupsAs you can see, it was a terrible cut, but I decided I didn’t need stitches. ūüėČ

We made our way to the Downtown Farmer’s Market and got a boatload of stuff, including sweet corn, cheese, beef sticks, hot peppers, pickling cukes, grapes, South Union bread, chicken breasts, and smoked duck. We also had a slice of yellow watermelon. It tastes exactly the same as pink. Had the guy cutting/selling it not be swamped, I might have asked the obvious question: Then why grow it yellow?

Since I'm not nice enough to remember her sunglasses, the poor kid had to use her watermelon
Since I’m not nice enough to remember her sunglasses, the poor kid had to use her watermelon

Harper got to ride the little train. I figured she’d want to go again, but she wasn’t sure this time. The train lady said, “You can sit in there with her if she’d like that better.” Of course, as I sat my ass in this teenie little train car with my knees cramped up next to my ears, a reporter from the local channel 5 news showed up to record some of the precious moments of kids on the train. Kids…and a 30-year-old. It figures that the one time someone would want to film me for the news, I’d be riding around on a kids’ train. Ah, I pretend to complain, but it was really quite humorous.

After sharing a fresh root beer, Harper and I made our way to Whole Foods. We got several more items, including blueberries, salmon, crab legs, ingredients for homemade granola, some strange yogurt that I’m not sure about, some salmon crepes that I should’ve passed on (not my favorite taste), 3 different herbs (epic fail on trying to grow them myself), more cheese, tofu, lunch meat, and cleaning supplies. Harper enjoyed riding around in the shipping card and got to eat lots of samples. She only had one minor meltdown when we were getting in line to pay. She decided it’d be fun to start throwing things out of the cart and dumped her remaining cheese crackers onto the floor. I was slightly less amused, but I knew it was close to nap time and she’d patiently been on an adventure with me for 4 hours.

I don’t typically buy a ton of produce at the store because we have fresh organic produce delivered each week from Prudent Produce. Best decision I’ve ever made regarding convenience, health, and taste. We go through a ton of fruits and vegetables around here. I’m going to start posting more about what I’m buying and cooking because I keep it pretty simple. I’m usually a pretty busy person and the only way I have time to cook as much as I do is because I make simple meals that rely mostly on the foods themselves for flavor. Well, the other reason is because the house is a mess! And I definitely rely on the convenience foods more than I’d like, but I do what I can.

After the epic day of grocery shopping, I worked for a bit, then decided I might as well make some food. We had baked crab legs, corn on the cob, and pea salad for dinner. I made some mini blueberry muffins and granola (from 100 Days of Real Food blog recipes so full of real ingredients and healthier than packaged). And I made some pickles.

– Jill

Posted in family

Sky Zone With Harper

Last Thursday morning, I broke our typical routine of Harper watching Sesame Street while I worked. Harper just got over an ear infection and it was time to get out of the house. So we went to Toddler Time at Sky Zone in Grimes. It was a blast! Harper jumped, ran around, played with a ball, and climbed into the foam pit. She lasted the whole hour without needing a break. She’s a mover!¬†We’re definitely going back…perhaps I can get a group of family members or friends who live in the area to join us?

This is one of the many reasons why I love working from home and being my own boss. Since I started my own business and I work on a contract basis, I’m not glued to my desk. I do try to be online during business hours most of the time, but sometimes, you just have to get away and jump on trampolines.

Here are a couple of videos of Harper jumping: and

Of course, the point of Toddler Time is so the littler kids can jump without getting trampled by older kids and adults. So I had to laugh at the one mom who ignored this fact. She was dolled up in complete makeup, earrings, and a sweats outfit with the word “couture” on it. She did back flips nearly on top of her kid¬†and jumped all over the place, all while her kid chased after screaming, “Mommy, watch me!” There’s always one person like this, isn’t there?